Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Tottering on the Brink

We all make mistakes, but intelligence enables us to do I on purpose.”  Will Cuppy
Born in 1884 in Auburn, Indiana, humorist Will Cuppy, on the cover of the current Traces posing with two stuffed monkeys, lived full-time on Jones Island just off the southern coast of Long Island in New York in a shack that he named “Tottering-on-the-Brink.”  After his getaway became part of Jones Beach State Park and tourists arrived by the droves, Cuppy moved into a Greenwich Village apartment but, according to biographer Wes D. Gehring, still “continued his hermit-like habits.”  A writer for the New Yorker and the New York Herald Tribune and author of “How to Tell Your Friends from the Apes” (1931) and “How To become Extinct” (1941), Cuppy once quipped that a hermit was “simply a person to whom civilization has failed to adjust himself.”  He also advised: “Never call anyone a baboon unless you are sure of your facts.”
Introducing Wilma L. Moore’s article about the Indianapolis Recorder, a black newspaper founded in 1895 as a two-page church bulletin, editor Ray Boomhower recalls going on a field trip to the South Bend Tribune and being so fascinated with the Linotype operators who prepared the daily editions, it inspired him to seek a career in the newspaper business.  When editor of his high school paper, typesetting had given way to a paste-up process, but Boomhower had to cut the print with a knife and line up the columns, much as I did for my Shavings magazines 25 years ago.
Jerry Davich interviewed 19 year-old college student Kaden S., born a girl who identified as a boy, hung out with other boys, and as a teen was attracted sexually to girls.  Until he heard about transgendered people, he didn’t realize other people like him existed.  He told Davich, “I thought I was the only one.  It was very lonely.”  He added: “I want to be recognized for my inner personality, but my outward image and identity is the problem.”  Kaden’s hero growing up was Captain America, who was transformed by an experimental serum into a superhero.

Although academia and the steel mills share little in common, Anne Balay wrote that they were both hostile work environments for un-closeted LGBTs.  In both cases newcomers are better off hiding their “queerness” and concentrating on fitting in.  At a university like IU Northwest that would mean not making waves, keeping one’s nose to the grindstone, being deferential to superiors, and accumulating published articles that few people ever read.  In the mill it meant not just doing your job well and learning to work as a team but adopting a tough, masculine persona, a rough sense of humor, and never showing weakness or vulnerability.  Anne concluded: “Women who work in the mill are generally perceived as masculine by themselves and others.”

In a chapter entitled “Male Masculinity in the Steel Mill” Anne quotes one worker as being surrounded by “a green haze of testosterone.”  The steelworker Anne called Jay told her, “Everyone expects you to be macho.  You’re supposed to be like a rough biker.  You’re not supposed to show your emotions, you’re not supposed to cry.”  Guys wouldn’t want to wear protective clothes or respirators and embrace risks to prove their toughness.

Nate, whom Anne described as tall, physically imposing and incredibly friendly, stated that the mill was “a place where I had to be one of the boys.”  Nate told Anne about the “tons and tons of horseplay,” especially in the showers, including ass-slapping and showing off if you were well developed.  His first day, somebody grabbed his genitals as a kind of initiation, and everyone laughed when Nate threatened to break the guy’s arm off and stuff it in his butt.  After Nate cooked Anne an elaborate meal, he told her, “I’m a very butch gay boy, but I bring out my effeminate side if I choose.  I’m not totally what I would call rough and tumble but I am a manly man.”

According to Anne, oral sex between men is not infrequent in the mill, and receiving a blow job does not necessarily stigmatize one as gay.  Norman told her that some straight men sought out “blow jobs because their wives wouldn’t give that to ‘em.”  Jay stated: “Some of those biker guys that work there, they’re very hard-core . . . but have no problem with getting their dicks sucked, they don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.”  On the other hand, when Anne asked straight males about oral sex in the mills, they seemed horrified by the question and denied ever doing such a thing.  Anne concluded: “Rather than making queerness impossible, or difficult, the steel mills open up possibilities of pleasure, albeit shameful, secret, and abject.  These pleasures circulate around masculinity, and they become harder to indulge openly as the identity-oriented GLBT movement gains momentum, so gender-deviant steelworkers pay a high price for their continuation.”
above, with Judy, Leelee and Wayne; below, with Terry 
Toni got photos developed from when I was with classmates at Giuseppe’s 13 days ago.  She also took one of Terry Jenkins and me after our tour of Fort Washington.

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